Thursday, July 11, 2013

Night of Nights: The Four Questions

On all other nights, we communicate in voice and digital modes. Why on this night alone do we communicate in Morse code?

 Let Richard Dillman of the Maritime Radio Historical Society tell it:

Morse code.

It's just beeps in the air. Yet on 12 July 1999 some very tough looking grizzled old radio pioneers had tears in their eyes as the last commercial Morse code radiogram was sent. It was the end of an era. And as the last beeps faded away into the static they witnessed the end of the career to which they had devoted their lives.

These men - and some women - had stood watch over the airwaves on shore and at sea. Theirs was mostly the business of maritime commerce. But when their ship was in peril they were called upon to send the most electrifying three letters in radio, S O S, knowing that all their fellow radio operators would press their earphones close to get every scrap of information and bring aid to their stricken ship.

Once, our coasts were dotted with great Morse code radio stations, all communicating with ships at sea. They're all gone now... all except one, the one they called the Wireless Giant of the Pacific, located at Point Reyes.

On that sad day in 1999 another event took place. The Maritime Radio Historical Society (MRHS) was formed. We made it our life's work to honor the men and women of wireless by restoring that wireless giant. One year and one minute later the giant's voice once again spanned the oceans as we picked up the thread and kept the faith with our colleagues of the air.

Every year since, in an event that became known as the Night of Nights, Morse code station KPH has returned to the air, joined by KFS and the station of the MRHS, KSM.

This year our friends and colleagues at USCG station NMC have labored mightily to bring that storied call sign back to life on Morse code for the evening along with NMQ in Cambria, CA.

WLO and KLB will join us again as they have in years past.

This is a global and local event. Hundreds of listeners around the world will be waiting with their earphones on, waiting for the signals of the great station to once again arc over the dome of the Earth to their receivers.

On all other nights we know KPH only as a license owned by Globe Wireless. Why on this night alone do we hear its mighty dahdidah didahdahdit didididit from its old station?

Because the restoration of San Francisco Radio on Pt. Reyes is one of the great triumphs of the human spirit.

Imagine you and your bunch of friends decide you want to restore old KPH, known worldwide as the Power House, dating to Marconi Wireless and then RCA Radiomarine. This mega-station is the former king of the Pacific. It's bigger than Disneyland. It has several sites many miles apart, towering MF masts, and endless acres of wire antennas on wooden poles.

You want to scrounge parts they don't make any more for vintage equipment, scrape off years of rust and grunge, attempt to decipher old wiring diagrams, revive dedicated lines between facilities, clean up old buildings, and do antenna work in a windy environment full of nasty bugs and pests.  You go to the National Park Service, which runs Pt. Reyes National Seashore, and say you want to do this.  You promise to put it back just the way it was when it saved lives at sea, creating a great radio museum and the crown jewel of their park.

They say go ahead, and you do.  Against all odds.  Arriving at the receive building, you find the filaments still lit in the vacuum tube receivers, as a final act of defiance by the station manager as he left the decommissioned facility. You set to work. Accomplishing the impossible, within the one year anniversary of the "last commercial Morse code message," you come on-air as KPH (with permission from Globe, of course).  Too cool.

The Power House lives!

Restoration continues.  Something like 16 transmitters will be used this year.  It's awesome.  One of these, restored vintage H set number 298, will be formally dedicated by Cicely Muldoon, superintendent of Pt. Reyes National Seashore.

You can come to the station. Details are in the MRHS Newsletter.  Pt. Reyes is very pretty.  Most years, they have cake.

On all other nights, we don't hear KFS any more at all, not even in its Globe Wireless hex ID. Why on this night alone do we hear its awesome cadence?

Because Globe Wireless started as KFS World Communications at Palo Alto Radio.  It was another mighty station, long gone, and you could dance to its Morse code ID - dahdidah dididahdit dididit. The call ended up on another Globe license, used in Dixon, CA. Again, they were more than happy to have it revived on the Night of Nights.

Globe Wireless greatly cut back HF services on June 30, and in fact the KFS transmitters are silent. Now, this historic call sign lives only on this Night of Nights.

The name Globe Wireless has a historical significance that I do not understand well.  It's cool that the new company wanted to use it.

On all other nights, special operations begin right at zero Zulu.  Why on this night alone do we begin at 0001?

That's when the "last Morse code message" ended.  It's yet another final act of defiance.  By the way, a commercial FCC license exists for the MRHS radio sites, call sign KSM.  It uses the 5 kW Henry transmitters that had been installed at the old KPH. It is allowed to accept commercial traffic, and also take OBS and AMVERs for free.  All of this means that the supposedly 'last commercial Morse code message," wasn't.  So there.

Keep in mind that 0001 is July 13 UTC. The event is on July 12 in the United States.

Strap on the cans, dust off your rusty CW, cheat with the computer if you have to, and celebrate this Night of Nights.